c/o Daniel Gessel

c/o Daniel Gessel

After an eventful regular season, the women’s soccer team made it to the NESCAC semifinals, qualifying for the NCAA tournament in the process. The Cardinals finished their 2023 campaign at 7–5–6, with a 3–2–5 NESCAC record. 

Before the season began, the team was already experiencing major changes. Eleven of their players had graduated, and nine first-years filled those roster spots. With this drastic change in personnel came a new playstyle. Before, Wes was able to push offensively through the air and attack using the long ball, but this new group could succeed on the pitch in a different fashion.

“This year, we transitioned to shorter passes: We can move back to move forward,” Katie O’Connell ’25 said. “But we’re still as a team moving forward. We wanted to play on the ground a little bit more, especially being a smaller team size-wise.”

This adjustment quickly proved worthwhile, as the Cardinals came out of the gates ferociously to start the season, winning their first four games all away. Over the course of the road trip, they beat Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1–0), Colby (3–0), No. 7 ranked Tufts (3–1), and College of Mount Saint Vincent (3–1). 

Because of a loss last season to Tufts, the matchup with the Jumbos on Sept. 12 was the focus for the Cards.

“We went there feeling like we can do this and there’s nothing to lose,” Captain Audrey Lavey ’23 MA ’24 said. “Last year, we got crushed, and that felt terrible. So let’s do that to them this year.”

Lavey let the Jumbos know Wes was out for revenge immediately as she found the back of the net just 54 seconds after kickoff. Then in the second half, O’Connell knocked a shot off the crossbar and in to put the Cards ahead 2–0. In the 78th minute, Waverly Meyers ’26 tacked on one more to give the Red and Black a commanding 3–0 lead, and they held on to win the match 3–1.

“I think we definitely played with a chip on our shoulder and something to prove,” Meyers said. “And so it was really nice getting that road win.”

After the road trip, the Cardinals’ record stood at 4–0 and 2–0 in-conference.

“It brings a different excitement to win so early in the season on the road, once, twice, and then three times,” O’Connell said. “It feels better than winning at home where you’re supposed to win. So I think just the pure excitement of winning on the road multiple times in a row just fueled our fire even more.”

After experiencing early success, the Cards went through a bit of a dry spell, tying with Trinity (1–1), losing to Hamilton that same weekend (0–2), and tying with Middlebury (0–0). Throughout those three games, Wesleyan only scored one goal, which was not the standard the team wanted to be playing at. Throughout this rough patch, the Red and Black were feeling the pressure, but upperclassmen in the locker room made sure to keep the team morale high to get back on the right track.

“Emphasizing to the team a good balance between the importance of winning and also the importance of having fun,” O’Connell said. “That keeps the pressure from going overboard.”

After another NESCAC loss to archrival No. 11 nationally ranked Amherst, the Cards were hungry to get back to winning soccer. They unleashed that hunger against Bates on Oct. 8, whom they demolished 4-0 in a much needed bounce-back win. 

Eight minutes into the match, Bates goalkeeper Ruby Reimann saved a shot by Stefanie Stoj ‘26 but dropped it in the box, allowing Lina Rodriguez ’24 to swing by and score, giving the Cards a 1–0 lead. Just nine seconds of game time later, a failed header block by Bobcats defender Kylie Musante sent the ball over the head of Reimann and into the net for a 2–0 Cardinals lead in the blink of an eye. Late in the second half, it took just one minute to double the lead as Lavey connected for high shot into the corner of the goal in the 86th minute, and in the 87th Riley Buehler ’26 took an unguarded shot from the top of the box which found its way into the net to put the Cards up 4–0, giving them yet another decisive road victory.

“We definitely needed a boost to feel like, ‘Oh yeah, we can still do this’”, Lavey said. “It wasn’t like the beginning of the season was a fluke. Because every year, you always ask like, ‘Oh, was that an accident? Like did this mean to happen?’ So I think that was a good reminder of the skill that we have. And that was also a doubleheader. And those doubleheader weekends are very challenging, just in terms of exhaustion. So winning and crushing them made it feel really good.”

With four games left in the regular season, and three of them being NESCAC matchups, much of the playoff seeding and all-important home field advantage was up in the air.

The Cardinals took on Williams on Oct. 14, and although Stoj sent Wes into the break with a 1–0 lead, the Ephs tied the score in the second half and that would be the final. 

Three days later Wesleyan played West Connecticut State University, and although that match was not consequential for NESCAC standings, the Red and Black showed off the full breadth of their ability on both sides of the ball as they crushed the Wolves with a season-high score of 7–0. The game was highlighted by a hat trick for O’Connell, the first by a Cardinal since 2018.

The final weekend of the regular season saw Wes taking on Bowdoin on Saturday, Oct. 21 and Conn. College the following day. Neither game went exactly how the Cardinals envisioned it as the final whistle blew both days with the score tied at 0–0, but that’s not to say there were no bright spots from the doubleheader.

“The defense was incredible—lockdown defense,” Lavey said. “In those types of games if we’re not getting a lot of opportunities, that’s all we can hang on to. And we also ‘park the bus,’ which is what we call it when we get everyone in on defense. So it wasn’t just our four defenders against their however-many attacking, it was a team effort anchored by great defenders. That was really key in getting those points that we did need.”

With the league points that the Cards won from their ties, they secured the fourth seed for the NESCAC Championships, meaning that they would play their first-round matchup at home on Jackson Field. Their quarterfinal matchup saw them rematch against Trinity, whom they tied with earlier in the season. 

c/o Max Forstein

c/o Max Forstein

On the Saturday of homecoming weekend, the Cardinals and Bantams competed for a spot in the semifinals in front of a large crowd of Wesleyan parents, students, and alumni. The two Connecticut schools battled it out in a game that became an instant classic, with many players noting it as the highlight of their season. After O’Connell scored the opening goal at the beginning of the second half, Trinity came right back and tied it up, which resulted in a 1–1 tie once play time expired. Two hard fought halves of back-and-forth in overtime saw neither team put up a shot, meaning it was down to penalty kicks to decide who would advance to the semis. 

The two sides went stride for stride in PKs, with goalie Molly Brumbach ’26 saving the first goal of the shootout, but Trinity responded with a save of their own. After continuing shot-for-shot, Brumbach made another clutch save, preventing Trinity’s seventh goal of the shootout. With the opportunity to send the Cardinals into the next round, Meyers, the eighth Wesleyan player to attempt a PK in the shootout, stepped up and put the ball in the back of the net, wrapping up an incredible match with a Wesleyan win. 

“I don’t think there was a time on the field where it was quiet,” Meyers said. “Obviously, Trinity is our rival. So beating them felt so good, and the home field advantage just made it that much better.”

After making it to the NESCAC Semifinals, the Cards lost in a hard fought 0–1 battle against Amherst. The team also qualified for the NCAA Tournament, facing #24 Misericordia University in the first round. Even though they fell to Misericordia (0–3), players were still able to look back on the season with pride for what they accomplished. 

“It felt really good to look at where we were last year, and the kinds of people we had on the team, and then to get back to that same place this year with a completely different look and different style,” Lavey said. “It was a testament to the kind of season that we had.”

Several Cardinals’ performances on the field were acknowledged as Lavey, Meyers, and Brumbach were awarded All-NESCAC Second Team honors, the first all-conference awards for each of them. Lavey was also recognized with a spot on the All-Region Third Team for her impressive campaign. With 2023 in the books, the team now turns their attention to the future.

“I think there’s a lot to look forward to,” Meyers said. “I think we have a young team and a lot of potential to be really, really good. And I think we could continue to make NCAAs and just take it from there.”

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu

Max Forstein can be reached at mforstein@wesleyan.edu